jagged little lines

by Art Chantry (art@artchantry.com)

THIS  little advert for the old seattle hippie-hangover over newspaper “the seattle sun” is the first thing i ever saw drawn by lynda barry. whenever i think of her work now, i think of this dog head. it was quite a jolt in 1979. the world didn’t look like this yet. this little ad with the extremely crudely drawn dog head holding the paper, was a sort of beacon for me, showing the way to how things were going to change.

AC:i never meant o imply that gary is a lousy "drawer". on the contrary, i think he's one of the most sophisticated pencil pushers i've ever seen. the fact that he chose the 'ratty line' as a stylistic medium speaks to his sneaky nature (heh heh.)

i’ve always loved lynda’s work, but i’ve really celebrated her little ads that she has done over the years. it think it’s her best stuff, because she is released from herself. it’s really hard to be autobiographical in a spot ad. it’s pure form and style without any real ‘depth’. and i love it. she’s one of the greatest american stylists of the last half century. look at what she did: she managed to open up drawing and illustration to everybody. she virtually invented the “i can’t draw and i don’t care” (well, maybe along with gary panter. but, lynda actually was seen by the mainstream) school of drawing and the cartoon/illustration world world never looked back. to this day we are flooded with drawings everywhere done proudly by people who can’t draw a lick.

AC:this is another lynda barry advert from a=maybe a year or so later. note how completely she worked out her signature style in so short a time. i think of this general period as her 'golden age.' but, that's just me...

that isn’t to criticize lynda for lack of skill or talent. quite the opposite. in fact, she can draw beautifully, even classically. i used to own one of her early portrait drawings and it was wonderfully crafted in a careful pencil hatch style that looks so completely unlike her popular work that you’d never know it was hers. she always thought of her cartooning (at least in the beginning) as a blow-off, her lame commercial work not to be confused with her ‘real’ art. unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) her ‘crappy’ stuff caught on like wild fire.

sure, she FAKED not being able to draw as a style. but, do you realize how weird that was back then? the late 70’s was incredibly well-drawn. think of all that incredible airbrush work and amazing american illustration in the magazines. there were no bad drawings in evidence anywhere (outside of small obscure punk zines. but, even guys like danny hellman could draw well). the crudely carved line work of lynda was all by itself back then. just LOOKING like that was a huge middle finger to the mainstream business culture back then. i doubt she knew that,though. she was trying to survive.

as far as i know, this little ad for the sun (the ancient leftover underground hippie gone mainstream newsweekly that spawned the rocket) is the first piece of published lynda barry advertising that popped up anywhere. prior to that, she co-art directed a year of the University of Washington Daily (the student paper) alongside her then-boyfriend mark michaelson (later art director of such magazines as newsweek.) however, i’m really not sure if either of them were ever students at the UW. but, it was during this time that lynda’s very first cartoon illustration was published in The Dailey (a single gag panel).

mark and lynda drifted over to the rocket (via the seattle sun.) the rocket began life as circular printed INSIDE the sun. then a cabal of folks (i think including mark and lynda and bob newman and bob mcchesney – yes, THAT bob mcchesney, among several others) bought it away from the sun and launched it an independent magazine. it was during this time that lynda became the assistant art director and first ‘in-house’ resident cartoonist at the rocket. the Sun, however, almost immediately collapsed and died.

during this early time, she did this little ad. the second image is a  little ad she did for an event she participated in.   by the time of the second advert (this one in the rocket) she had become fully ‘developed’ in her new ‘style’.

i really love these old ads. she survived by picking up any work she could (the rocket paid her diddly-squat for her cartoons we ran.) so, as a result there are lots of weird little beautifully drawn ads and illustrations peppered through publications from around the seattle area during these years. eventually she was picked up by the chicago weekly and then she really launched into syndication. now, she’s a firmly established writer/illustrator/ cartoonist/social commentator. but, back in the beginning, she was just a little bohemian proto-punk chick writing these

nge hilarious little stories and trying hard as hell to draw them as badly as she could.

on a more personal note, lynda was actually instrumental in talking me into getting sober. at one point she hired me to design a letterhead for her (she was a mad letter writer.) i designed a pink paper letterhead with red “lynda barry” lettering at the top of the page – all printed with FLOCKED ink. basically, fuzzy red letters! i thought that was perfect. but she didn’t. that started a round of talks that lead all over the place. she eventually convinced me to try AA. i went, it worked and i’ve been sober 20 years. so, in a big way, i owe lynda for that small favor. i dunno if she even knows it but those conversations sorta saved my life. i thank you, lynda.

however, i never did finish that letterhead….

AC: ( on the second image )notice how she took the entire space alloted for the ad and created her own world inside that space? the only concession she makes to the rest of the magazine is that this thing will fit inside the space provided. she doesn’t even concern herself with the ‘wasted space” (as so many advertisers like to point out) that she doesn’t use and ignores the additional boundary lines that the other ads create. it floats in there.

that was so completely radical back then. NOBODY did that sort of thing. it was SO defiant. you couldn’t miss the subtle/bold attitude it created on the page. very cool stuff….

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